"Hello, my name is Till Lindemann. I'm from Germany and I speak English very bad."
Two out of these three claims are true. The speaker is indeed Till Lindemann, the singer most famous for fronting industrial-metal pyromaniacs Rammstein. He is from Germany. But he's being humble about his English — it's not so bad, after all. I've been talking to Lindemann's creative partner, Peter Tägtgren (of Hypocrisy and Pain), about the project that shares the singer's surname, when the Rammstein frontman bursts into the conversation and heartily introduces himself with his signature booming charm.
Till and Tägtgren are somewhere in Russia when I speak to them. They're sitting outside an escape room amid a long weekend of shooting videos, giving interviews and otherwise revving up for the release of F & M, the excellent second album by Lindemann, their joint project. It's an eclectic collection of irresistible songs drawing from metal, industrial, techno, hip-hop, classical and even tango, blending the unique creative visions of the two artists into something singularly captivating and distinct from their main acts.
While Lindemann might be a side project for both its members, it's still a lot work. "It's a pretty brutal schedule," Tägtgren explains cheerfully of the duo's pre-album-release agenda. The hotel conference room from which they've called is bustling with people, and the Russia-to-America phone connection is shaky at best. He forges on. "We try to balance everything as it comes … We always need to put our finger in everything that happens around us."
The pair leave their mark on everything that is Lindemann, but there is a bit of a division of labor between the two. Tägtgren focuses on musical composition, while Till lends his sharp eye to the band's visual aesthetic, from photography and design to their mind-bendingly surreal music videos, the most recent of which being the extremely bloody and sexually explicit "Knebel" clip. It only aired once online in its original cut before being pulled for a "censored" version.
Though Till and Tägtgren's areas of expertise may diverge, the two are careful when talking about Lindemann to convey a sense of deep partnership involving every aspect of the band. The project may seem like a solo endeavor due to its moniker, but this couldn't be further from the truth. The duo's sense of partnership also comes through more viscerally in how they talk with each other: The two play off each other in the familiar way of friends and equals, and with a fun, chaotic energy that betrays not only the exhausting shoot they've just endured, but also their long history together. They talk about that history, the darkness of F & M, their twisted videos and surprising musical influences, and more in the Q&A below.
BETWEEN THE TIME YOU CONCEIVED OF THIS PROJECT AND YOUR ACTUAL FIRST RELEASE, 2015's SKILLS IN PILLS, THERE WAS A 13-YEAR GAP. WHAT WAS THE HOLDUP?
PETER TÄGTGREN Both of us are busy, and we have been since the beginning of this time with our other bands. We always wanted to do something together, but time was never on our side until 2013.
DO YOU THINK THAT, SINCE YOU'RE ON KIND OF A ROLL NOW WITH TWO ALBUMS IN FIVE YEARS, THAT THE RELEASES MIGHT FLOW A BIT QUICKER?
TÄGTGREN That's a tough question. Our main bands are still our priority, but we try to sneak this in when there's time and when there is inspiration. I mean, there's always inspiration for us, but we have to have a calm head so we can really concentrate on everything. When we start, though, we go really fast.
WHERE DO YOU GUYS FIND THE IDEAS FOR THE LINDEMANN MUSIC VIDEOS?
TILL LINDEMANN Most of the time it comes with the song, like the content of the song can bring up some ideas — strange ideas. Sometimes we can use the opposite meaning on the songs into the video ideas to create some friction. But mostly it comes from the music … and through a crazy director.
SKILLS IN PILLS HAS LYRICS IN ENGLISH. THE NEW ONE HAS GERMAN LYRICS. HOW COME?
LINDEMANN The first one we did in English because we didn't want to collide with Rammstein. You know, it sounds almost the same — a little bit at least — and to bend it when I went solo, I did it in English. It's a different thing in the end, and now we've begun recording in German because of a theater project, actually.
We made music for a theater project called Hänsel und Gretel, like the Grimm Brothers, a very modern piece in Hamburg. Very bizarre, very modern with backing projections … We got asked to jump in with three songs, and in the end it was five. So we had an EP almost done, and we started spinning around and decided to do even more songs. It was very creative! I was working on some songs at the time, and Peter was writing.
To make a long story short, it started with a theater project then we got crazy with hip-hop, then we have a lullaby, we have a tango … We went crazy in the end, and very creative.
DO YOU THINK YOU'D LIKE TO ATTEMPT RECORDING IN ANY OTHER LANGUAGES?
LINDEMANN I would love to make a really cool Spanish song, definitely. The future dream is to make a Russian song, which we may do very soon.
I DON'T SPEAK GERMAN, BUT I TRIED TO LOOK UP SOME TRANSLATIONS FOR THE SONG "STEH AUF" TO UNDERSTAND THE STORY YOU'RE TELLING. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT?
LINDEMANN Everybody has got their own interpretations of songs, you know, the meanings and such — people come up with very strange ideas about this song. But I tell you what it's about: It's about a kid waking up to her dead mother because of an overdose, so when I say, "Mama, get up, please. Outside there are kites in the sky, there's a circus in town, let's get out! It's a sunny day. I want to have fun!" But she has her eyes wide open — she's already dead from the overdose. She has black holes in her arms. It's a really strong to think "Get up!," but then, you know ...
THAT'S REALLY DARK, WHICH SEEMS TO BE A THEME THROUGHOUT THIS ALBUM COMPARED TO THE LAST, AND THERE'S LESS OBVIOUS HUMOR. WAS THAT A NATURAL SHIFT FOR YOU?
TÄGTGREN I think everything happened in a natural way. We never plan to get an idea, like with lyrics and music both, it just depends on what kind of mood you're in. It's really hard to wake up one morning and say, "Today, I'm going to write something about blah, blah, blah." It just comes and you think, "I need to get this out."
Is it darker than the last one? I don't know. Yeah, maybe. The last one had a little bit more humor, I would say.
LINDEMANN Yeah, we had more funny punch lines like the golden shower and stuff like this.
WHY IS INFUSING HUMOR INTO THE SONGS SO IMPORTANT TO YOU?
LINDEMANN Well, it depends on the situation. Of course, the time when we wrote the first album was totally different than the time we live in. We're getting older, we have other experiences, different people around us. I think it comes with time that the subjects you cover changed because your life changed, and it goes from one to one.
When I listen to the first songs I wrote in Rammstein, I have to smile because it was so silly at time. It's growing, you know. Life is changing. I think we have improved more now ...
LINDEMANN We have more skills now, and we've made a lot of progress.
TÄGTGREN Plus we don't care really. We sit and write by ourselves, and we don't think about, "Oh, this is going to be listened to by thousands and thousands of people," or anything like that. We just think about what is good or cool or brings something, or if it gives us a hard-on.
RIGHT. SO, DO YOU TWO SIT IN THE SAME ROOM FOR THIS, OR ARE YOU WRITING SEPARATELY THEN COMING TOGETHER LATER?
LINDEMANN Peter sends me files and I sit down and try to get some ideas about it, some inspiration. I'd say for 60 to 70 percent of the work, I crawl into the instrumental and try to put some words on it. I'll have proper lyrics most of the time, then I come up to Peter's studio and we fine-tune everything. Then we go into arrangement, looking for chorus lines and melodies. It's quite a long process, but we are well-prepared. Because it's a long-distance relationship and I have to go to Sweden all the time to go to the studio, I'm well-prepared when I go in.
TÄGTGREN We're communicating all along and then we start sending files. Sometimes he'll send me files from when he was singing in the bathroom, then I trigger on it and start writing music around it. We send it back and forth, talk about it a lot, then we arrange it as good as we can and when we finally get in the studio to put the real takes down, we know what to do. We are very prepared.
YOU BOTH STARTED OUT AS DRUMMERS. DO YOU THINK THAT'S BEEN HELPFUL TO YOUR PARTNERSHIP?
TÄGTGREN Well, we both understand a lot of rhythm since we're both drummers. I think it helps! We try to get it groovy somehow, and if it's not groovy for us, we try to make it groovy.
LINDEMANN I haven't played drums for quite a while, but we're always sitting there, nodding our heads ... Then all the images, especially for videos, like we're working in rhythm. Sometimes it's really hard to get along with video directors because they want to show pictures and images, [while] we're working with the rhythm.
DO YOU THINK YOU'LL EVER BRING THE LINDEMANN SHOW TO THE UNITED STATES?
TÄGTGREN Never say never, you know. We're going out into Europe in the beginning of February, also Russia and Ukraine, Kiev.
LINDEMANN We have a very tough schedule right now. Like shooting videos, we did three over this weekend, then another after that, and then we're also doing promotions. After that, we go into rehearsal to bring the band together and start rehearsing the records, combing the old record, getting a proper light show and stage setup. We go out in the end of January for a European tour and a little bit of Russia, but then we're both going back out to play festivals. Next year is totally booked, but after? Who knows! We would love to come over. We love the American crowds.
WHAT HAVE YOUR SHOWS BEEN LIKE TO THIS POINT?
TÄGTGREN We did a warm-up sort of tour in Russia and Ukraine, 10 gigs or something like that, just to start feeling out what the hell we are and what we are doing. So now we are going to refine it, re-tune it, and then bring it to a big crowd. Maybe there is no demand! Maybe we're still playing in clubs to nobody, we never know. Or we don't know yet, but we are hoping it's going to be good.
We're putting a lot of effort into a lot of things to watch, plus the light and atmosphere. We could never do a Rammstein thing, you know? We'll do it differently.
SO I GUESS YOU'LL BE LEAVING OUT FIRE COMPLETELY?
TÄGTGREN Naw, no fire. I think they are the experts on that, and that's how it should be.
LINDEMANN No, no, I think that belongs to the other bands. This is just, like, straightforward, hardcore rock & roll.
THERE SEEMS TO BE A STRONG INFLUENCE OF DANCE MUSIC ON THIS RECORD, TOO. I CAN IMAGINE HEARING "STEH AUF" IN A CLUB AND DANCING TO IT.
TÄGTGREN If you can dance to "Steh Auf," there are some more songs on there you can dance to, for sure. It's so wide, there are so many different colors in it.
LINDEMANN Yeah, there's a lot of hip-hop, then the tango ...
DO YOU LISTEN TO A LOT OF HIP-HOP?
LINDEMANN Sometimes. You can't avoid it! Hip-hop is everywhere: all the music stations, radio and television. It's everywhere. I'm not a big hip-hop fan, but I respect all kinds of music and some of them are really cool. It's not about your taste either, like, I listen to the arrangements and I'll listen to sounds and sequences, like, I like break beats.
You can learn a lot from hip-hop and rap music and transport those techniques into heavy metal and rock music. If you have open ears and an open mind, you can learn a lot. A lot of people say, "I hate it" or "I don't even want to listen to it," but I think that's a big mistake. You can learn a lot. These guys work really hard.
I ONLY HAVE ONE MORE QUESTION, AND YOU DON'T HAVE TO ANSWER IT, BUT, TILL, THERE WERE HEADLINES THIS SUMMER THAT YOU BROKE A GUY'S NOSE FOR BEING RUDE TO YOUR FEMALE FRIEND. IS THAT TRUE?
TÄGTGREN [Laughs] It's under investigation right now!
LINDEMANN That attorney is waiting for me, but, uh ... he was a rude asshole, and made a friend of a friend start crying. But it's yellow press.